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Becoming Your Parent’s Role Model: How Gen Z Will Heal Childhood Trauma

By Mariah Ross

The stigma around mental health has met its match as a new generation continues to thrive in their willingness to confront childhood trauma. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, childhood trauma is categorized as an “emotionally painful or distressful” event that generates lasting effects on one’s mental and physical health.


Intergenerational Trauma

Emotional neglect, physical, sexual, and substance abuse are just a few of the traumatic experiences that can negatively affect a person’s well-being and carry over into adulthood. When those wounds go unchecked, they pass through generations. As inadvertent as it may be, our parent’s trauma has the potential to become our own. In determining how this trauma exists within immigrant families, former Titans Dreamers Resource Center Coordinator Martha Zavala Perez said that most people do not begin healing until the second, third, or sometimes the fourth generation in the United States. A lack of resources coupled with the need to succeed in a new country puts many parents into survival mode, where the first priority is to provide. 

“A lot of times healing, processing mental health is very much seen as a ‘white thing.’ It’s very much seen as a privilege thing,” Perez said.

While healing used to be seen as a luxury, it is now starting to be regarded as a necessity. When left untreated, childhood trauma can lead to an array of mental health crises including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and social difficulties. There are socioeconomic implications attached to the process of healing, but that does not mean that people who are struggling financially cannot find peace.

A Whole New Digital World

With a surplus of resources and outlets, young millennials and Generation Z have been able to combat the shame surrounding the conversation of mental health. Latinx Resource Center Coordinator Ariana MoraMero credited social media sites like TikTok and Instagram for allowing more open expression about mental health.

“By being outspoken and creative they’re taking very complex issues like childhood trauma and making it digestible for others,” Mora Mero said.

Whether it’s via social media profiles, lengthy blogs, or other mediums, professional therapists can now be accessed at the click of a button. Finding individuals with the skill set to help and a community facing similar struggles has never been more possible.

While social media can provide an outlet for those looking for a sense of community, Zavala Perez said that people should be wary about the false reality it has the potential to create. The sense that healing is reserved for the privileged exists online as much as it does in the real world. Perez said that social media can perpetuate the idea that healing is not for everyone. On the other hand, if more real and raw content is posted, it allows for more honest conversations.

“I think that when we start to be more real, we can serve as role models for others,” Perez said.

A Path to Healing

So, how do we get to a place where healing is possible? It can be difficult to find a productive way to express trauma to your parents when pride and guilt get in the way. Perez said that when we normalize the conversation, it opens the door for communication that leads to healing. She also said that people should embrace role modeling and allow their journey to speak for itself.

“I can just kind of share what I’m doing for myself. Share what I see around me and then you are going to pick up on that. You are going to see the growth from that,” said Perez.

If speaking to your parents is not an option, Mora Mero suggests therapy or finding resources that allow you to feel heard and validated. On-campus, Counseling and Psychological Services is an excellent resource that Perez said more students should take advantage of. Viewing counseling from the perspective of a conversation with someone whose job it is to simply listen is one way to get past the stigma associated with it.

“If you go to CAPS when you feel perfectly fine you can learn the skills to help you so that you don’t break,” said Perez.

Once we can recognize the trauma, it’s up to us to take that initiative to heal. There is no shame in admitting we all have something to heal from, but allowing cycles of trauma to continue only perpetuates the pain it has caused. Together we can be the generation that breaks the cycle and changes the stigma, but only if we put in the necessary work to do so.

“We do have the ability to stop that trauma or at least heal through quite a bit of it, so we don’t pass it on,” Perez said. “It’s only a trend if we stop posting about it.”

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